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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Understanding the populist backlash

Although populism is making headlines across the globe, there is a lot of confusion about what this concept really means and how we can study this phenomenon. Part of the problem lies in the usage of the term as a battle cry. Both academics and pundits often employ the term populism to denote all the political actors and behaviors they dislike.

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Evolution of the Cerebellar Sense of Self

Getting to know your cerebellar self

The cerebellum is an intriguing part of our brain. Its name is the diminutive form of cerebrum, so literally means ‘little brain’. It is true that, in humans, it occupies just 10% of the brain volume, yet recent research shows it accounts for approximately 80% of the nerve cells; a complex network of approximately 69 billion neurons! Why does the ‘little brain’ contain such a disproportionate number of neurons?

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Poverty: a reading list

Poverty can be defined by ‘the condition of having little or no wealth or few material possessions; indigence, destitution’ and is a growing area within development studies. In time for The Development Studies Association annual conference taking place in Oxford this year in September, we have put together this reading list of key books on poverty, including a variety of online and journal resources on topics ranging from poverty reduction and inequality, to economic development and policy.

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Matters of the past mattering today

The past can be very important for those living in the present. My research experiences as an archaeologist have made this very apparent to me. Echoes from the distant past can reverberate and affect the lives of contemporary communities, and interpretations of the past can have important ramifications.

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The challenge of adult language learning

Adult migrants often struggle to learn the language of their new country. In receiving societies, this is widely seen as evidence that migrants are lazy, lack the required will power or, worse, actively resist learning the new language as an act of defiance towards their new community. Unfortunately, most of those who point the finger at migrant language shirkers vastly underestimate the effort involved in language learning.

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9780190275501 - Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy by David P. Barash

What about polygamy?

In today’s world where the majority of developed countries tend to favor monogamous relationships, what should we think about polygamy? David P. Barash, author of Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy, reveals a few facts about polygamy that’ll give you some food for thought.

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Bodies of breath, bodies of knowledge, and bodies of culture

Towards the end of his lecture on ‘techniques of the body’, delivered to a meeting of the Société Française de Psychologie in 1934, the sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss discussed the methods of breathing practiced by Daoist priests and Yogic mystics. Far from being instinctive, these techniques require a lengthy apprenticeship.

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No time to think

On leaving school, my advisor reminded me to always take time to think. That seemed like a reasonable suggestion, as I trudged off to teach, write, and, of course, think. But the modern academy doesn’t share this value; faculty are increasingly prodded to “produce” more articles, more presentations, more grant applications, and more PhD students.

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In memoriam: Sidney Mintz

Professor Sidney Mintz passed away on 26 December 2015, at the age of 93. “Sid” as he was affectionately called by his acquaintances, taught for two decades at Yale University and went on to found the Anthropology Department at Johns Hopkins. His best-known work, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, was published in 1985.

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Did human grammar(s) evolve?

In order to hypothesize about the evolutionary origins of grammar, it is essential to rely on some theory or model of human grammars. Interestingly, scholars engaged in the theoretical study of grammar (syntacticians), particularly those working within the influential framework associated with linguist Noam Chomsky, have been reluctant to consider a gradualist, selection-based approach to grammar.

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Mentalizing in groups

‘Mentalizing’ is the new word for making sense of oneself, others, and intersubjective transactions in terms of inner motivations. It can be fast and intuitive (implicit mentalizing), as in most informal and routine interactions, or slow and elaborate (explicit mentalizing), when one steps back to indulge in reflective thinking. “Why did she say that?” The thought is such an integral part of being human that it is most often taken for granted. Yet it is an evolutionary achievement.

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OxBibs in African Studies

We are all African, but we also have our own histories

In May 2015, at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, a French-led international team announced the discovery of the oldest stone tools known yet. Dating back to more than 3.3 million years ago, these crude flakes, cores, and anvils represent the earliest steps in our evolution into a species reliant on, if not defined by, the use of tools and other manufactured objects. Coined the ‘pre-Oldowan’ or ‘Lomekwian’ after the site in West Turkana at which they were found, these tools are larger and cruder than the more recent Oldowan industry.

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Selfies in black abayas

Today, when worlds collide with equal force and consequence as speeding cars on a California highway, can we imagine escaping the impact of even a single collision? Is the option of being miraculously air-lifted out of the interminable traffic log-jams available for us, even if we are spared physical injury? Just as avoiding California highways is an impossibility (given the systemic destruction of public transportation system), meeting head-on forces of neoliberal globalization with its unique technological, financial, and ideological structures is an inevitability.

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Ritual in our lives [quiz]

Whether we know it or not, ritual pervades our lives, silently guiding our daily behavior. Like language, tool use, and music, ritual is a constituent element of what it means to be human, joining together culture, archaeology, and biology. The study of ritual, therefore, is a reflection on human nature and the society we inhabit.

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Policing

Trust in the aftermath of terror

In the days following the terrorist attack in Paris on 11 January, thousands of people took to the street in solidarity with the victims and in defense of free speech, and many declared ‘Je suis Charlie’ on social media around the world. The scene is familiar with what we have seen in several other countries in the aftermath of major terrorist attacks.

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